The Intervenor's Role

Frank Blechman

Private Consultant, Formerly at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: Very early in this field somebody told me what are role as outsiders in conflicts often are that we are agents of reevaluation. For the very positive we are agents of doubt. For the very doubtful we are agents of reassurance. For the people who are not well grounded we are agents of reality. For people who are too well grounded we are agents of fantasy and possibilities, of unconsidered possiblities. Agents of imagination.

Q: So we are the counter-balance?

A: We are the counter balance. We are always inviting people to step a little bit outside of their comfort zone. And that guess what? That makes them uncomfortable. Shouldn't be shocked about that and that the more we are able to acknowledge the discomfort we cause, we can stop being so smug about what wonderful, beneficent interveners we are. As long as we thing we are God's gift to peace making on Earth and that everybody should welcome us because we are so wonderful to come around and help them, who would want a pompous ass like that in the room. It is much more honest then for the Doctor to say I am going to do this and it is going to hurt but I can't numb you down because you need to be able to give me feedback about when and how it hurts. Not pleasant, but much more realistic then this will just pinch a little. No, it hurts like hell. It is going to hurt even when the results are good. Change hurts. I guess that is my lesson. I think that you know that I am very formed by the word benestrophe for our work.

Q: Benestrophe? What is that?

A: I think you know that catastrophe is a series of painful, traumatic and dislocating bad events. Earthquakes, tornadoes, farm droughts, plagues; those are catastrophes, they affect a lot of people. Many of the social changes that we advocate are benestrophes. They are a painful, traumatic, and dislocating series of good events. The opposite. Good weather, a farm surplus, a budget surplus, those are benestrophes. If peace were ever to break out it would be such a benestrophe, were not sure the United States can survive it, as we know it. It would be a terrible benestrophe.

Once we can acknowledge that our good work even at it's best, is going to be painful, traumatic and dislocating; we can then acknowledge that people who were cynical, suspicious and even fearful of us are not doing so out of fearful, stupid, ignorance or superstition, because they are aware and in many ways far more aware then we are of the pain, the trauma, and the dislocation that change will bring to them. And they are better grounded and again, it's one of those surprises that we ought to pay attention to because when we can acknowledge that then you can begin to say one of the problems we have to solve is how do we mitigate the pain. How do we help you get through this transition with the least amount of dislocation or with the most help to go through the transit? We don't have to pretend this will be painless; it'll only pinch a little for a minute. I think that's very important if we're going to be actual agents of change. It's part of that honesty thing.